By  on November 21, 2005

NEW YORK — Move over, Simon Doonan. The new window dressers in town are barely of age, and they're taking Manhattan by storm. Last Thursday morning at her West 12th Street studio here, Diane von Furstenberg unveiled her first-ever holiday window and its designers: Laboratory Institute of Merchandising students Veronica Curatolo, 21, and Brian Ill, 22, of Staten Island and Putnam Valley, N.Y., respectively. Curatolo and Ill won a contest to design a holiday window for Von Furstenberg's stores. They were joined by six of their classmates and several faculty members to celebrate the occasion.

If it sounds more like a field trip than a party, there's good reason. Six weeks ago, the students in LIM's Product Presentation class were assigned a project: Design a holiday window display for Von Furstenberg stores based on her Russian-inspired fall and resort collections. The students were divided into four groups and given about a month to develop a DVF-themed shadow box. Digital Plus printing lab sponsored the program, pairing the design house with the school. A panel of merchandising experts from Burberry, Paul Smith, Tommy Hilfiger and Kate Spade along with Von Furstenberg's director of marketing Kate Sullivan judged the presentations on Oct. 26. The grand prize was a chance to put up one's installation in DVF stores in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, London and Paris, where it will stay through Jan. 15.

"The students were told it should be based on the new line," said Christene Selleck, the course instructor. "They were given the size of the window and that was it: Do whatever you like."

Curatolo and Ill's cleverly rendered display took the number-one spot. The window, titled "It's a wrap!," is anchored with a classic DVF printed wrap dress set in front of a transparent logo wall. Piles of matching gift-wrapped boxes fill the floor while a printed onion dome frames the scene. "This presentation really locks down on the core DNA of the brand," Sullivan said. "The idea that we are a print resource and the ‘It's a wrap!'"

Impressive, given the duo's limited knowledge of von Furstenberg at the onset of the project. "I knew she was famous for her wrap dresses, but that was it," Curatolo said. The students started their research by visiting the DVF store and studio. "Then we did our own Google searches," Ill explained. "We went to Barneys and Saks to do our own research."We knew that Diane built her business around the wrap dress and her patterns," he said. "Like Burberry is known for their plaid pattern, people can walk up to somebody wearing a wrap dress and known it's a DVF because of her prints. So we wanted to incorporate the wrap dress and one particular print while accenting a Russian theme."

The morning of the installation looked like a meeting of two distinct brigades. The designer and her staff, almost all done up in signature prints, surveyed the scene, while the LIM students, exuberantly turned out in T-shirts emblazoned with the "It's a wrap!" slogan, giddily waited for her to pose for photos under her Warhol silk screens.

The project marked a first on both sides. LIM has never worked with a designer for this particular course, and von Furstenberg's holiday window embellishments have until now been limited to minor flourishes such as a wreath. Indeed, to put what Sullivan called the "kickoff of [the company's] global-windows program" in the hands of undergraduates was a considerable risk. But then von Furstenberg revels in the role of mentor. "I love fresh talent," she said of her decision to participate in the project. "I have a very young audience, and I think that with fresh talent out of school, you get the essence of their juice. It was a fun idea."

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